LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky's juvenile-court proceedings and records may remain secret, a federal appeals court ruled on July 7.
The three-judge panel from the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati turned away an attempt by the Kentucky Press Association to open proceedings involving juveniles to the public. The ruling upheld a February 2005 decision by U.S. District Judge Joseph Hood, who dismissed the press association's lawsuit against the Kentucky courts.
All court proceedings in Kentucky involving people under 18, including criminal cases and termination of parental rights, are closed to the public. Allowed into such proceedings are family members, witnesses, the victim and state workers.
The Kentucky Press Association, a news-media trade organization, told the court that keeping juvenile court secret deprives the public of its First Amendment right to access to information and erects a bar to press-association members gathering and publishing news.
Attorneys for the courts and youth advocates told the panel that juvenile proceedings should remain private because the purpose of the proceedings is to rehabilitate youths.
The three-judge panel said the press association failed to properly challenge the Kentucky law or show that it completely closes the juvenile courts. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported July 8: "A part of the Unified Juvenile Code of Kentucky allows a judge to grant access to people for 'good cause' or people who have 'direct interest in the case or in the work of the court,' the court said."
The ruling said, "There is one fact of crucial importance that has yet to be determined: whether Kentucky law, as interpreted by the Kentucky courts, completely closes juvenile proceedings and records to the media, as KPA contends."
Also according to the Lexington newspaper, Jon Fleischaker, a Louisville lawyer who represents the KPA, said he was disappointed by the ruling.
The Herald-Leader reported: "The KPA can now ask the entire 6th Circuit ... to rehear the case, appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court or take its case to the state courts, as the three-judge panel suggested" in its ruling.
Coincidentally, a Kentucky law scheduled to take effect on July 12, H.B. 3, opens some juvenile records to the public, including those cases involving deadly weapons, according to the Herald-Leader.